Tag Archives: democracy

Kicking stupid to the curb

There’s a person in the U.S. who thinks abortion should be banned because fetuses masturbate.  There was another one a few weeks ago who claimed that yoga was a gateway to Satanism.  Are these the random ravings of a guy on a street corner with a cardboard sign proclaiming the imminent arrival of the apocalypse?  No, they are statements made in seriousness by elected officials.  People who have managed to convince a sizable number of other people to entrust them with a position of real power and influence.  On last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher, one of the panelists, herself a Republican (oh yeah, the aforementioned remarks were both made by Republicans, as if you needed to guess) thought the “masturbating fetuses” comment represented a tipping point, and that sanity would begin to reassert itself on the right wing.  What has become abundantly clear over the last decade where politics is concerned is that there is no such thing as a tipping point anymore.  Every time we think we’ve reached the limit of the pendulum swing towards “the crazy,” someone else doubles down.  And someone else doubles down again on that someone else.  Forget tipping points – we’ve fallen off the cliff, and we’re competing to see who can scream loudest on the way down.

Last year’s comedy The Campaign was supposed to be an absurdist take on an escalating battle of nutbars for a congressional seat, and as star Zach Galifianakis observed, they found themselves out-absurded by real life.  Birtherism, “You lie,” the 47%, “legitimate rape,” Sarah Palin, anchor baby terrorism, unborn self-pleasure and Downward Dog apparently now being a reference to Cerberus, absolutely none of this meme-ready dumbassery, enough to cost any one of us regular folks our jobs and our friends were we to utter them in public, has been able to persuade the general public that something is rotten in the state of our discourse.  Rather, ideology has been entrenched in cement.  In the past I compared it to how fans support sports teams with unfailing devotion, but that may have been inaccurate.  Even the most dedicated fans will criticize their team from time to time, and the most zealous will go at their chosen squad with profane hatchets if they are dissatisfied with how the season is going.  Not so in politics.  Usually, an elected official who gets rightly excoriated for saying something inane and insulting will do the “I misspoke” non-apology apology routine and turn the incident into a fundraising plea by complaining that the big bad mainstream media is picking on them.  The lemmings will duly empty their wallets in response, and the rest of the world will shake its head at the same old story playing out again and again.

Living in a democracy means that theoretically, any citizen should be able to step up into a position of leadership so long as they have been properly elected by a majority of voters.  (The role of money puts the lie to this basic assumption, but let’s just go with it as a key principle for the sake of my argument here.)  That does not mean, however, that everyone living in said democracy is capable of governing, just as the guy who sits on his bar stool bitching about the Leafs does not actually possess the skill set to coach them to a Stanley Cup victory.  The canard that “the system is broken” is repeated ad nauseum to justify a cynical attitude toward public institutions.  Even those in power rely on the “everybody does it” excuse – see the Canadian Conservatives trying to deflect justified public outrage at their Senators’ grotesque abuse of taxpayer-funded expense accounts by flinging blame back at the Liberals (who have been out of power for seven years).  Justin Trudeau had it right when he said that the solution is not abolishing the institution, it’s choosing better people to populate it.  I feel like I say this a lot, and yet, it bears repeating – why is the bar set so catastrophically low for what we expect from the people we choose to govern us?  If our only qualification for electing someone is a suit, a flag pin and a series of poll-tested sound bites, why do we then act surprised when things go wrong?  It’s government by the lowest common denominator, and it keeps rolling along with the inevitability of the seasons and the tides.

Here’s a thought experiment.  Imagine going on a job interview – it doesn’t matter what the job is – and whatever question is asked, just pivot to how important family values, faith, low taxes and supporting the troops is to you.  Which outcome is more likely – landing the corner office or never hearing from the interviewers again?  Let’s delve deeper into this situation.  What are you usually asked when you’re being interviewed?  Questions about your experience as it pertains to this new role, ability to function as part of a team, aspirations for your potential future with the organization, your general character.  When one considers the lofty esteem with which the private sector is regarded (as compared to the piss poor reputation of the public sector), why should its standards for hiring not apply equally to choosing from a slate of candidates for office?  If you want the best government, should not those selected to take part in it boast the deepest, most relevant resumes, and a corresponding depth of character and empathy for one’s fellow human being?  If governing is supposed to be serving the public, you would think that a general like of the public would be a critical qualifier for taking part in it, which seems rarely to be the case.  We are inundated with angry elected faces spewing hateful rhetoric against everyone and everything that is wrong with this country, but of course, it’s the greatest country in the world and it’s perfect and infallible and hooray for freedom and support the troops.

Sorry to get off on a rant there for a moment, but I’ll bring it back to earth again.  There has been a confluence between the world of reality TV, which bases its revenue model on attracting viewers with displays of stupidity, and the world of politics.  The ensuing treatment of the stupid in our civilization, where it is better to make noise than speak substance, leads to tolerance, expectation, and finally glorification and celebration of stupidity.  Will the “masturbating fetuses” congressman apologize, resign in disgrace and spend the rest of his life asking his customers if they want fries with that?  Nope, he’ll be re-elected, handily, and continue to give the world the benefit of his inexperience and ineptitude.  And people will suffer, directly or indirectly, because of it.

Unless, as the Lorax said.

Never before in our history have we been so equipped to take stupidity head-on and kick its drooling, mouth-breathing hindquarters to the metaphorical curb.  We walk around with repositories of infinite knowledge clipped to our belts, packed with tools to root out willful ignorance.  We don’t have to be spoon-fed with what the self-propagating media machine is serving us in the name of getting us to buy things – we can become active pursuers of truth, and exposers of the foolishness that left unchecked will lead our civilization the way of Rome.  When we complain about congressional gridlock, or free-spending senators, we must accept the blame for gifting such unworthy persons with the responsibility to make decisions for us, and the resulting course of our country.  We need to vet these people better before we decide to trust them, and to hold even the most noble of souls rigidly accountable once in office.  And we have absolutely no excuse not to do it anymore.  The resources are at our fingertips.  It has never been easier.  It takes only the will to use them.  One click to start to make the world a better place.  Is the status quo really preferable?  Are we just morbidly fascinated to see what comes next, what new Caligula or Nero will dare present himself for our appraisal?

How well did that work out for the Romans?

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Dear Pasty Republican Billionaires: Haven’t You Got Anything Better To Do?

Founder of the new Super PAC, “Americans for a Prosperous Tatooine.”

You can’t read U.S.political news lately without seeing a story about a septuagenarian Republican one-percenter with a hate-on for the President pouring millions of his fortune into a new Super PAC.  Thanks to Citizens United, right-wing sugar daddies are emptying their coffers to Karl Rove and ilk to flood the airwaves with ads blaming President Obama for everything from sunspots to the common cold.  Figures like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and most recently, Joe Ricketts, are positioning themselves as the new architects of what is left of American democracy.  You’d think that achieving staggering levels of wealth would be enough, but apparently, multiple mansions and car elevators are not where it’s at anymore.  These oligarchs-in-waiting are determined that the government is destined to be a rich guys-only club, and who gives a damn how many poor people get steamrolled out of existence in the process.  In fact, the more poor are simply obliterated, the better.

Stories about Republican Super PAC funders seem to have one thing in common – the men in question are uniformly old, bloated and incredibly sour-faced, as if their soul has been eaten away by a lifetime of stress, drinking, smoking and rage.  Paul McCartney told us that money can’t buy me love; these characters are the embodiment of that axiom.  These real-life Charles Foster Kanes have conquered the business world, crushed enemies in their wake and accumulated wealth to rival that of the pharaohs.  But love remains elusive for them, no matter how many zeroes in their Cayman Islands offshore holding account.  Nobody loves these guys.  No young boy goes to sleep at night dreaming of being a hedge fund manager and forcing people out of their homes.

Instead, Republican billionaires squirm and twist in a constant state of paranoia, terrified that colleagues, friends, family members and even the postal carrier who slips on the ice in their two-mile long driveway in Aspen are scheming to take everything away.  It’s no surprise, given the path a man has to take to claw his way into mega-millions.  You simply don’t get there by being adored.  How frustrating, then, that others of far more limited means can still manage to find love.  Joe Ricketts’ recently announced plan to dredge up Reverend Wright again centers on trying to make voters hate the President.  Not disagree with his policies; hate him.  So, presumably, the President can then feel as down-trodden and hopeless about life as Joe Ricketts must.  You get the feeling that we could have been spared the phenomenon of the Super PAC had their mothers just hugged these people more.

What Ricketts and the rest of these billionaires despise most about President Obama is that he is everything they are not, and will never become.  Truly self-made; someone who came from nothing and got where he is by working hard and applying himself, instead of being parachuted into accidental greatness by a generous trust fund.  A man with a beautiful wife he clearly adores beyond words and a happy, loving family.  President Obama is a greater embodiment of the American Dream than any of these grumpy old guys.  Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he has the ability to inspire people across all walks of life, and around the globe.  Hope and change remains a potent campaign slogan because it appeals to our better angels.

For crusty old billionaires, this does not compute.  They believe everyone is as greedy and money-grubbing as they are; that altruism is a fool’s game, that no one ever does anything out of a simple wish to be good.  And it positively bakes their collective noodles that not everyone wants to be rich.  The majority of us just want to earn enough to look after our families, so they don’t have to worry about getting sick or feeding themselves or having a roof over their heads.  Amazingly, you can still do that without millions in a diversified asset portfolio, and working hard at that goal despite difficult odds is far more likely to earn you genuine love than the extra fifty million you’ll earn if Obamacare is tossed by the Supreme Court.

Simply put, a heart that is rotting cannot lift others.  The Koch brothers may have helped the Tea Party become a ground-shifting political force, but no one would ever accuse David and Charles Koch of being inspiring men.  They and those like them don’t inspire with words and ideas; they push with threats and cattle prods, because they don’t know any other way.  And they come to envy and hate the ones who do.  Whenever you see Karl Rove’s picture, this pudgy, balding sinister figure without a kind word to say about anything left of Genghis Khan, you can’t help thinking that he must have been the fat kid who was always picked last for the team, and is continuing to take his revenge on the popular kids forty years on to satisfy some long-simmering Freudian dysfunction.  And it is all so futile.  Mitt Romney could sweep all 50 states and half of Australia and these people will still be stewing in their self-loathing and cursing their inability to feel any better.  No one will love them any more.  They’ll feel even worse if they blow all this cash and President Obama still wins.

So here is my modest suggestion.

Take the money you had intended for your Super PAC and found a charity instead.  Build a school.  Refurbish a hospital.  Fund cancer or AIDS research.  Erect a nature preserve.  Start a new business and hire some people, for god’s sake.  Then go visit one of these places anonymously and look for the genuine joy in the eyes of the people you’ve been able to help.  Just stand there and soak it in – the sense of gratitude, of warm feelings.  Let your heart quicken.  Feel the love.  Then think about how you can do even more.  How good it will feel when a child whose life has been saved because of an initiative you backed mentions you in their prayers before going to sleep at night?  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Don’t you like the idea of being remembered, like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story, as “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world”?  Or would you rather spend your money on TV ads demonizing the President of the United States, ads that will be as forgotten as swiftly as you will be the day your rotten heart finally croaks its last beat?

Ball’s in your court, Super PACs.  I know I’m sleeping fine tonight.

The questionable wisdom of electing potted plants

Recently, a member of the Canadian House of Commons,  John Williamson, invoked Martin Luther King Jr. to praise the abolishment of the long-gun registry. Not to be outclassed by his northern neighbor, an American Congressman, Allen West, opined that eighty members of the opposing party were Communists. The frequency of these lapses into idiocy by elected officials in their public statements is reaching critical mass, and so disheartening to the voters of our two respective countries that stupid statements, false equivalencies and comparisons to Hitler are becoming the new normal way of going about the people’s business. But you cannot blame a puppy for making a mess on the floor if he hasn’t been housebroken. The responsibility lies with the ones who put him there. Morons are running the show because we tossed them the job and sighed, “Have at it, oh insipid masses.”

Democracy is the most precious form of government and the most capable of greatness when insightful, committed people are in charge; it is equally the most susceptible to abuse and neglect when the wrong sorts get their hands on the public purse. One of the problems with our democracy is that the mechanism by which one chooses one’s representatives – the election – has for a long time, philosophically, been not about establishing a vision and a set of tenets to guide a nation, but simply about delivering the other guy a resounding whuppin’.

I’m not the first to come up with the analogy that we are treating our politicians like athletes and supporting the parties the way one would pledge undying allegiance to a particular sports franchise. Much as we expect nothing more from athletes in their post-game interviews other than “Yeah, well, we gave a hundred and ten percent out there,” it seems acceptable for politicians to spout inanities and continue winning. In Canada, the opposition bemoans how media revelations of mismanagement, ineptitude and suspected election fraud have done little to move the polling numbers of the sitting government. Yet the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and they still sell out their home games. When you abdicate the responsibility of informed citizenship and become merely a fan, of course you’re not going to care how badly your guys are doing – they’re your guys, thick and thin. The thing is, whether the Leafs win or lose a game has no bearing on your daily life. Who wins elections does.

In a properly functioning democracy, the people deserve a true debate, where points of view are considered, argued vigorously, and evaluated on their merits. I have my ideological leanings, as we all do, but if it came to a choice between a reasoned and intelligent advocate of the other side versus one of my guys brainlessly reciting talking points and breaking Godwin’s Law, I’d choose the former. I want a functioning, curious and logical brain hard at work for my community, because they truly want to make it better and not because politics comes with a sweet pension. A person of true principle, not an empty suit who only understands every third word of the legislation we’re entrusting him to vote on; a seat-filler who last had an independent thought sometime in the summer of 1985.

Every hockey coach knows that one strong forward won’t make up for a bunch of guys who can’t skate. In politics, even the best leaders need a strong bench. We need to stop filling out the ranks of our representatives with twits and thugs we wouldn’t trust to wash our cars just because we might like the guy at the head of the pack, or the team they happen to play for. We deserve better than that. Our democracy deserves better than that.

Governing is not easy. It requires the best of the best. And yet, every political party in existence has its safe ridings or districts; areas where the loyalty to a team is so entrenched that little attention is ever paid to the caliber of the individual acting as the standard bearer, nor must much of a case be mounted to ensure that loyalty. It’s said of such races that the incumbent party could run a potted plant and still win. It should come as no surprise then when the winner shows in his or her representative career the kind of reasoned and nuanced approach to governing possessed by the average fern. (No offense to ferns.) Otherwise sane parents who would not for one moment tolerate their child throwing a tantrum and calling Uncle Frank a Nazi are only too eager to install like-minded infants into elected office because of party worship. And unless that stops, unless we choose the best of us and not the loudest, we’ll never get the government our democracy needs. We’ll only get Wrestlemania in suits and ties – and last time I checked, I’m not sure The Undertaker had much of a fiscal policy.

The human factor: Game Change

Ed Harris as John McCain and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in Game Change.

When Aaron Sorkin was first developing The West Wing, he was advised repeatedly that shows about politics don’t work.  It’s one of the more interesting ironies that even though pundits are fond of dismissing political machinations as “inside the beltway” minutiae that make no difference to the lives of ordinary people, political stories, whether they are Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the President’s Men or JFK, are among the most compelling dramas out there.  Why, might one ask?  There is something Shakespearean in narratives set amidst the pursuit of, or the exercise of high office – they are our latter-day tales of the courts of kings and queens.  In fact, Game of Thrones, HBO’s award-winning fantasy series, wins praise not for its dragons and magic and special effects but for the plights of its very human characters caught up in the drive for political power.  Indeed, “HBO” and “Game” would seem to be a winning combination, as exemplified by the premiere this past weekend of Game Change, the Jay Roach-directed story of the McCain-Palin presidential campaign of 2008.  In today’s climate it’s difficult to put politics aside when looking at a movie like this, but the script (by former Buffy the Vampire Slayer actor-turned-writer Danny Strong, who also wrote Recount) jettisons ideology to a large extent.  You don’t really get the sense from the movie of what McCain and Palin were running on or how they differed from the successful Democratic ticket.  The story focuses instead on what made The West Wing and the best political movies work – the human element.

You don’t have to agree, even slightly, with the positions of John McCain or Sarah Palin to enjoy this movie – you can be the staunchest, conservative-loathing left-winger and still relate to the weary McCain’s fading hopes to be President, the suddenly infamous Palin’s desire to prove herself on a national stage and seasoned advisor Steve Schmidt’s drive to win.  There is an honour to these people when viewed in their private moments (fictionalized as they may be here) and a humanity that we come to realize is stripped away under the lens of 24-hour news coverage, rendering them less people than caricatures defined at the whims of others.  The sublimely talented Julianne Moore is an eerie dead ringer for the infamous Alaskan governor, nailing her look, her movement and her oft-imitated voice, and showing us what made average people gravitate to her in the first place.  It was easy to snicker at Tina Fey’s “I can see Russia from my house” line back in the day; much less so to see the film’s Palin experiencing being pilloried night after night to raucous laughter.  The always watchable Woody Harrelson is excellent as Schmidt, who is instrumental in getting Palin on the ticket over McCain’s initial preference of Joe Lieberman, and who watches like Doctor Frankenstein as his “creation” spirals out of control, only to try and salvage what he can of the party as the campaign begins to go off the rails.  In one of the final scenes, as he angrily tells Palin she will not be allowed to give her own concession speech on election night, he has come full circle, a believer in and defender of the traditions of American democracy, after living the consequences of trying to win through cynical political calculations alone.

Asked by Anderson Cooper at the end whether he would have put Palin on the ticket had he the chance to make a different choice, Schmidt only comments with resignation that in life, you do not get do-overs.  As the real-life Sarah Palin maintains her public presence and muses to the press about jumping into the 2012 Republican race should Mitt Romney not achieve a solid lock on their nomination, the ultimate lesson of Game Change rings loudly – the reason why, contrary to popular (or at least entertainment executive) belief, political stories work.  John McCain, Steve Schmidt and the Republicans looked at Barack Obama’s effect on his supporters and concluded that rock star charisma was enough to win.  What they and the world came to realize in 2008 was that it is not – gravitas matters more.  At its heart Game Change isn’t about wonkery and punditry and polls; what it does is put the lie to the old saw that anyone can be President – or, perhaps more accurately, that anyone should be President.  Some people just aren’t up to the job, and that’s nothing against them.  Sarah Palin certainly wasn’t, and there is a hint of classical Greek tragedy in the tale of a woman given such an enormous opportunity only to see it drift away because of her own failings.  I’m a proud liberal – I cannot condone Palin’s politics, how she conducts her life or how she would choose to impose her worldview on others, but I can empathize with the loss of a dream I didn’t realize I even wanted.  We all can.  That’s why Game Change works, and why it can take its place among the best political stories – because of the human factor.

A kind of hush all over the world

WordPress just added this incredible feature whereby you can track hits on your blog by country of origin.  Admittedly a lot if not the majority of these hits aren’t people looking specifically for my writings, they’re stumbling upon it because search engine tags of a post I’ve written happen to coincide with something they’re looking for.  But any writer would like to hope that a few are sticking around because they like what they’ve discovered.  One thing is for sure, it sort of puts to bed the idea that you need a massive marketing machine to find yourself a global audience – it also reinforces the theory that the Internet is one of the greatest tools of democracy ever invented, and why its freedom needs to be protected wherever the Ministry of Information dares to try to rein it in.  So without further ado, here is where you’ve all come from.  And as always, thanks for visiting.

I am humbled.  Truly.  Saudi Arabia even???  Yowza.  The only thing I have to add is, come on Japan and New Zealand, get with the program here.  And Greenland is not that big.

Ontario Election 2011: What Kind of Day Has it Been?

This is my final post for the Toronto Star’s Speak Your Mind, as published on their website this morning and reprinted here by their kind permission.  Please ignore the shameless self-promotion in the final paragraph as it was meant for non-regular readers of this blog.

In the City of Burlington, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same.

In a result that surprised only the politically naïve, Conservative Jane McKenna maintained the PC’s 70-year hold on the riding by a few thousand votes over her closest opponent, Liberal Karmel Sakran.  The NDP’s Peggy Russell was a distant third, although she improved the NDP’s vote totals from 2007.  None of the other party candidates made a dent.  In the end, the status quo reigns.

A couple of lessons to take from this result – primarily, that the Blue Machine in Burlington remains formidable in its city-wide presence and get-out-the-vote efforts, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  Despite the troubled and controversial candidate nomination process Team Blue underwent in the pre-writ, this riding boasts a solid bloc of Conservative voters who will remain loyal no matter whose name is on the ballot.  It is noteworthy to mention that what distinguishes Burlington from next-door neighbour Oakville, where Liberal Kevin Flynn was re-elected to his third term, is that most unlike Oakville, Burlington boasts a fairly large rural community.  Province-wide, the Tories cleaned up in the rural ridings.  Many rural voters are upset with Liberal policies like the Greenbelt, a swath of which dominates Burlington’s north, and a general feeling, justified or not, that their concerns are passed over in favour of the urban areas.  Those voters tend to be get-government-out-of-the-way conservatives and they always make it to the polls in large numbers.

And yet, the combined total of Liberal and NDP votes exceeded McKenna’s numbers by a considerable margin, suggesting conservatives are outnumbered in Burlington by a majority of generally progressive voters who could finally tip the balance if a single progressive candidate could rally their support.  Burlington’s council leans progressive and its mayor once ran federally for the Green Party, so it’s a misconception to assume that the city’s political leanings are as far to the right as say, somewhere in Alberta.  Despite the apparent Conservative lock, the riding remains poachable.

One of the things that the federal Conservatives are regularly pilloried for is to have their nominees or failed candidates acting as “shadow MP’s” in their ridings, establishing a community presence and visibility with an eye to the next electoral cycle.  More often than not, it pays off – witness their gains in the GTA on May 2nd – and there is no reason why the Liberals or NDP couldn’t do that in Burlington either.  Find a face and get out there at local events and rallies starting tomorrow – not to undermine the MPP, but to humanize an alternative, and to try and suck some oxygen out of the traditional charges levelled too often without response against Liberals and New Democrats.

That’s tomorrow’s challenge, anyway.  Right now we offer congratulations to Jane McKenna as she takes her seat in the Legislature and hope that Dalton McGuinty’s foray as the leader of a minority government is more productive than Stephen Harper’s – that McGuinty’s focus will be on governing, not playing political games and seizing every opportunity to make the opposition look bad.  McGuinty can solidify himself as a true statesman by making this minority work and proving that Ontario was smart in trusting him with a third mandate, that the unpopular choices he made were the right ones.  Who knows – if he is successful in shepherding Ontario back to economic prosperity, there might be another job opening up in 2013 he’d become the odds-on favourite for – one that is currently held by another Premier of Ontario.

I’d like to thank the Toronto Star and Speak Your Mind for the wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts about my hometown and this election with you.  I’ll be continuing to blog at www.grahamscrackers.wordpress.com if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read here and would like to see more.  Or you can follow me on Twitter at @thegrahammilne.  In closing I’d just like to remind everyone that our democracy is one of the most precious possessions we have, one that is envied the world over and is yet the most fragile of gifts.  We have been entrusted with this flame and we are morally bound to keep it bright.  Because the road back to the worst of dictatorship and despotism begins when good people choose to stay home and close their eyes.

Keep them open.

The wisdom of Isaac Asimov

Something different this morning.  Offered without comment for your appreciation and reflection, the ageless wisdom of Isaac Asimov.  Hat tip to my friend Tadd.

“When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

“To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.”

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

And he was a Star Trek fan too.

Ontario Election 2011: In service of our better angels

This post appeared on the Speak Your Mind site of the Toronto Star (http://speakyourmind.thestar.com) yesterday.  Reprinted here by their kind permission since, technically, they own it.

Democracy is a pain.

Let’s begin by being honest with ourselves. To our detriment, Canadians look forward to elections with the same enthusiasm as they do a visit to the proctologist. They’d rather listen to Snooki whine about The Situation than suffer through another campaign commercial. And the people of Ontario are headed to the ballot box for the third time in less than a year.

But as any decent proctologist would insist, regular checkups are good for you. That pain is a minor inconvenience in exchange for a healthy government.

As the writ drops, we look to the next several weeks with both hope and cynicism – hope that the campaign will be a shot of democratic adrenaline, with compelling candidates, engaged voters and a substantive debate leading to a bold vision of the magnificent places this province can go with the best people leading it; and cynical expectation that events will devolve into the usual baseless accusations, sound bites repeated mindlessly and a pox on all houses as we shrug, pick the least of the worst and slouch back to our lives.

Burlington is not on anyone’s list of ridings to watch this election. Provincially, it’s been Conservative blue since before many of its eligible voters were born. Yet there are a few hints that it may turn out to be a true battleground this time – a chance to see real democratic engagement, rather than a slow, dispirited march towards an inevitable outcome.

Incumbent Tory MPP Joyce Savoline isn’t running again. For the first time in decades, the three main party candidates vying for the Burlington seat are all newcomers. The Liberals, who have not held this seat since the 1940’s, have nominated lawyer Karmel Sakran to carry their banner. Oddly, the nomination contest for the Conservatives unfolded like a season of Survivor, with one candidate after another dropping out of the race for what could have been, given Burlington voting habits, essentially a guaranteed job as MPP. Local entrepreneur Jane McKenna, the last woman standing, has the advantage of the PC brand but is coming off a fifth-place finish in the 2010 municipal election for the Ward 1 Council seat. NDP candidate Peggy Russell, a former school board trustee, will be looking to harness some Jack Layton magic after her own unsuccessful attempt to capture the Ward 5 Council seat last year.

The last three elections have seen the Conservative candidate come out on top by less than 2,000 votes. Savoline’s 41% of the vote in 2007 was the worst showing by a Tory in Burlington in years, but she still managed to eke out a win – and that was at a time when Premier Dalton McGuinty was far more popular than he is now. McKenna’s poor results in 2010 suggest that her campaigning skills might need some polishing, but there’s a huge difference between running on your own and running as a major-party candidate. Unless Tim Hudak’s campaign implodes it would be fair to say the race is hers to lose. McKenna’s greatest advantage is that sleepy Burlington doesn’t like change, and that its voters seem programmed to back Team Blue. Having said that, Sakran has an impressive CV, and with an inexperienced opponent and barring significant vote-splitting with the NDP, he has the best chance for a Liberal upset in decades.

But ultimately, that is just inside baseball. What will make the difference in this riding and in this election, is leadership – and not of the chest-thumping chickenhawk variety. True leadership is the gravitas of statesmen that comes only with experience, curiosity, humility, and the capacity to embrace and learn from one’s failings. It is the confidence in the nobility and decency of the people, and the genuine desire to do the very best for them. To appeal to their better angels; to unite them in a real society that celebrates our achievements and leaves no one behind. That’s what the people of Ontario should want. No matter who we support, that’s what we should all be voting for.

So let us take our medicine and embrace that cumbersome pain known as democracy. The reward – shaping our future – will far outweigh the cost.